Stylist’s books editor Francesca Brown presents October’s most-wanted fiction, memoirs and poetry.
October comes with a wealth of brilliant writing. Buckle up and take a long, hard look at your bank account because you’re going to want to hand over the whole of your disposable income to booksellers (preferably on Bookshop Day on Saturday 5 October).
From memoirs that’ll leave you both uplifted and weeping (Nadiya Hussain, Adam Kay, Ali Wong and Megan Phelps-Roper alongside Hillary and Chelsea Clinton’s gutsy women) to fiction from some of the best writers ever to grace the planet (Zadie Smith, Jojo Moyes, Philip Pullman, Gayl Jones and Holly Bourne), this is a bountiful month. There are also breakout titles from thriller writer Caroline Corcoran, dread specialist Kirsty Logan and the ever-brilliant poet Sophia Thakur.
So, make some space on your bookshelves now, as we meet some of the biggest and best books of this autumn.
The must-read return: The Giver Of Stars by Jojo Moyes
Jojo Moyes might be known for her Me Before You trilogy (and basically owning the bestseller charts) but her latest book is a world away from her previous work. Set in Depression-era Kentucky, it tells the story of a spiky English bride, Alice, who discovers that an escape from her strait-laced family is not all it’s cracked up to be.
Stuck in a backwater town with a preening husband and dominating father-in-law, Alice longs for an escape and finds it in the local chapter of a travelling library. Run by local women and girls ranging the hills on horseback, the library becomes a lifeline for families desperate in need of escapism and education but inevitably raises the ire of reactionary locals who think the women are disseminating dangerous materials (especially Marie Stopes’ much-thumbed guide to sexual health). Touching on the still-burning issues of control, violence, poverty and racism, Moyes has created a rollicking story that’s perfect for long autumn nights. Enjoy…
(Out 3 October, Penguin)
The uplifting bios: The Book Of Gutsy Women by Hillary Rodham Clinton and Chelsea Clinton
This is the big one you’ve been waiting for – a definitive collection of women who’ve upended the status quo and done things their own way by two women who know what they’re talking about. From pioneers to writers to environmentalists to political activists, this book is a stunning celebration of diverse women including Dorothy Height, LGBTQ trailblazer Edie Windsor, swimmer Diana Nyad, Rachel Carson, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Mary Beard, Wangari Maathai, Harriet Tubman, Malala Yousafzai and more. An essential addition to any feminist collection, this is a book to bring hope and power to your heart.
(out 1 October, Simon & Schuster)
The addictive thriller: Through The Wall by Caroline Corcoran
Caroline Corcoran’s Through The Wall is like Rebecca for the 21st century and a rival to Gone Girl for its addictive, twisted plot. Lexie and Harriet live next door to each in a bustling part of London where neighbours remain anonymous and isolated despite the paper-thin walls.
First, they both start listening to each other’s lives (projecting social butterfly vs smug coupledom) but then they start to go that one step further by following each other online – and it’s in these dark gaps of envy and projection that things go from bad to worse. Filled with a wicked humour and an honesty about the insane pressures put on women, these characters are driven to the brink by this modern world and what it’s done to us all.
(Out 3 October, Avon)
The very funny stocking filler: Twas The Nightshift Before Christmas by Adam Kay
A small-but-perfectly formed follow-up to Kay’s behemoth memoir, This Is Going To Hurt, this Christmas-themed delight continues to capture the dark humour and dedicated work of NHS professionals everywhere. These are the men and women forgoing cosy times with lovers, friends and family in order to deliver the news of a dying relative as an ill-timed musical reindeer tie decides to make an appearance.
Not for the faint-hearted (or fans of Vietnamese summer rolls – seriously you’ll never want to eat one again), Kay’s dry wit is a delight in these dark times and will properly make you LOL in public places. Mr Kay, we salute you.
(Out 17 October, Pan Macmillan)
The essential short stories: Grand Union by Zadie Smith
From Manhattan to London and Paris, past and present, Smith’s first collection of short stories is wry, disturbing and piercing. In Downtown, she explores the horror of modern-day America from the repeated murder of young black men to the horror show of Christine Blasey Ford addressing the Senate Judiciary Committee (“See Brett up there making that little bitch baby face? See that? That’s the face a baby makes when you try and take his rattle away.”) Lazy River is set in a hellscape resort where its occupants carefully set up Instagram photos and indulge in drunken karaoke while the world outside burns. Dive in and be transported on 19 different – but brain–nudging – journeys.
(Out 3 October, Hamish Hamilton)
One of 2019’s must-read memoirs: Unfollow by Megan Phelps-Roper
“I didn’t understand what was going on, not at first. The signs simply appeared one day and never left.” Megan Phelps-Roper was raised in the Westboro Baptist Church – a fire-and-brimstone sect that’s famously appeared in Louis Theroux documentaries and who take hate speech to the next level. Muslims, Catholics, atheists, Jews, the LGBTQ+ community – all come under fire from the placard-wielding group.
In this riveting and moving memoir, Phelps-Roper explores her childhood and how she spearheaded the sect’s social media until, at the age of 26, she left both the group and her family. It’s an urgent read for us all; how she was able to listen, empathise and draw her own conclusions is a valuable lesson in these increasingly polarised times.
(Out 8 October, Riverrun)
A tale of honesty and joy: Finding My Voice by Nadiya Hussain
From her wry, warm winning turn on 2015’s Great British Bake-Off, Nadiya Hussain has trailblazed her own original path – a fact that, in her own words, still takes her by surprise. Born into a British-Bangladeshi family in Luton and married with three children, she’s become one of Britain’s most influential women, sold hundreds of thousands of cookbooks, taken over as a TV presenter in her own right and baked a cake for the Queen’s 90th birthday. She’s also been unflinchingly honest about her anxiety and, in this memoir, she writes openly and comfortingly about the mental health issues we all face.
(Out 17 October, Headline)
The powerful poetry: Somebody Give This Heart A Pen by Sophia Thakur
Uplifting, brave and quietly devastating (“On the corner of the street that your father lives on, you never visit”), Sophia Thakur’s new collection of poetry is so resonant – whatever your age, background or experiences – she touches on the universal experiences we all know. Broken hearts, the bravery of doing what you believe, pulling yourself together again as life and the world seems to conspire against you, all come under Thakur’s gaze. Give your heart this book.
(Out 3 October, Walker Books)
The dark reads: Things We Say In The Dark by Kirsty Logan
Just in time for Halloween comes Kirsty Logan’s deeply, deeply unsettling and brilliant collection of short stories. Some feature horror, nearly all feature dread and, in the manner of Shirley Jackson, all will burrow their way into your brain and not let go. My House Is Out Where The Lights End is the perfect example of what Logan can do to you as her narrator, Jay, returns to her rotting and abandoned family home conjuring up images of a terrifying childhood and the revelation of something more, something even darker – all the time surrounded by blackened, dead sunflowers. Read it but maybe also keep the lights on for a few nights.
(Out 3 October, Harvill Secker)
The lost masterpiece: Corregidora by Gayl Jones
Upon its release in 1975, Corregidora found acclaim from writers including Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison and James Baldwin and now it’s being republished by Virago (always the champion of women writers everywhere). Exploring the legacy of slavery and violence upon its protagonist, blues singer Ursa, it’s a painful and devastating story but also one that explores the nature of control and ownership of women by men in all of its forms (giving voice to issues that are still being unpicked at this very moment) and is a landmark of African-American literature that you need to pick up.
(Out 3 October, Virago)
The much-needed funny: Dear Girls by Ali Wong
Sometimes you just need a really entertaining read that’ll make you laugh like a drain. A lot. Ali Wong’s Dear Girls has you covered. Tackling terrible men (give the DJ a wide berth), teenage idiocy, marriage (avoid hen dos – your weekends are precious), motherhood and more, Wong transfers her stand-up persona to the page with verve and joy while sending straight-talking letters of wisdom to her two girls.
(Out 14 October, Canongate)
The YA gem: The Places I’ve Cried In Public by Holly Bourne
Who hasn’t shed a tear in the work toilet/on the train/at the end of very long night…? It’s relatable but what’s also brilliant about Hollie Bourne’s new novel is that is pierces the heart of what love should be. It shouldn’t make you feel lonely, worthless, foolish, hysterical or idiotic – and as narrator Amelie revisits all the places she cried while seeing Reese – she begins to understand the truth of a toxic relationship. Smart and beautifully written, this isn’t just for YA readers.
(Out 3 October, Usbourne)
The long-read autumn delight: The Secret Commonwealth by Philip Pullman
Lyra Silvertongue (formerly Belacqua) returns… Last seen as a baby in Pullman’s addictive La Belle Sauvage, Lyra is now a student in Oxford and recovering from the events of the original His Dark Materials books. Tragically, the things Lyra and her daemon, Pantalaimon, have been through have not left them unscathed but one night they are drawn into a mysterious death and much talk of roses being destroyed in the East. As ever, Pullman’s story is complex and vast but home to some of the finest storytelling in the 21st century. Revel in whole new worlds and enjoy one of literature’s most wonderful heroines before she comes to HBO and the BBC.
(out 3 October, Penguin and David Fickling Books)
Images: Alessia Armenise/PR provided